Education can help prevent identity theft

Published 6:42 pm Friday, March 8, 2013

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis talks to community members Friday at Peoples Southern Bank about how to avoid identity theft.

Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis talks to community members Friday at Peoples Southern Bank about how to avoid identity theft.

Identity theft and fraud are two problems Chilton County law enforcement agencies and businesses see on a regular basis and hope to prevent by educating people on how to avoid becoming victims of these crimes.

Peoples Southern Bank in Clanton provided free informative materials to the public as part of National Consumer Protection Week (March 3–9) and invited Sheriff Kevin Davis to speak Friday about what identity theft is, how it can occur and how to avoid it.

Davis said not sharing personal information via the Internet or telephone is one way to avoid identity theft.

“Once you put it out there on the Internet, it’s out there,” Davis said. “There’s no way to get it back. You need to be face-to-face with people if you’re giving Social Security numbers and bank information.”

People in the United States and abroad prey on others using the telephone as well.

Davis said a common scam is for someone to call a random telephone number and convince the person who answers to reveal personal information including their Social Security number or to send money for fabricated reasons such as bailing a relative out of jail.

“What we’re seeing a lot is that these people are from different countries,” Davis said and added that some criminals target elderly people. “They don’t realize the greed out there and the criminal element that’s trying to beat you out of your hard-earned money.”

Davis said another way identity thieves succeed in obtaining others’ personal information is by going through their mailboxes, trash cans and dumpsters to find bills and documents. Shredding old documents instead of placing them in the trash can eliminate this avenue of identity theft.

A brochure from the Federal Trade Commission listed red flags of identity theft including: mistakes on bank, credit card or other account statements; mistakes on the explanation of medical benefits from a health plan; regular bills and account statements do not arrive on time; bills or collection notices for products or services never received; calls from debt collectors about debts that do not belong to a person; a notice from the IRS that someone used a person’s Social Security number; mail, e-mail or calls about accounts or jobs in a minor child’s name; unwarranted collection notices on a credit report; businesses turn down checks; and a person is turned down unexpectedly for a loan or job.

Chief Operating Officer Pat Baker of Peoples Southern Bank said she sees much debit card fraud and stresses to customers not to reveal any information over the phone.

Baker also said anyone who notices a discrepancy in his or her bank account balance or unusual activity of any kind should contact the bank immediately.

“We do everything we can to protect our customers,” Baker said. “We see that people are victims of identity theft on a daily basis here, so we thought it was important to educate our customers and the community.”

Capt. Neil Fetner of the Clanton Police Department said someone overseas had been calling people all over Chilton County from a Clanton-area cell phone number recently attempting to get money from them.

Like Davis and Baker, Fetner said not giving personal information over the phone is an effective way to avoid identity theft.

Davis said people who think they might be victims of identity theft can also call the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office at 205-755-4698.